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All Killer, No Filler

February 3rd, 2019 · Posted by Skuds in Music · No Comments · Music

I think the phrase “All killer: no filler” is a familiar one. As applied to music it is an LP which only has tracks that are what are currently referred to as ‘bangers’. Obviously it is a very subjective matter. One person’s killer track is another person’s waste of space.

Having a couple of ‘filler’ trcks doesn’t stop an LP being an absolute classic of course. Led Zeppelin 4 would be a classic just on the strength of Black Dog, Rock & Roll and Stairway to Heaven but most people could nominate at least one of the other 5 tracks they would happily skip. Rumours by Fleetwood Mac is a favourite of mine, but could easily live without Songbird or Oh Daddy (Sorry Christine!). Pet Sounds is always hailed as one of the best albums ever but I can’t listen to it without skipping  lot of tracks.

As I am currently in a very reflective and nostalgic mood, I have been thinking about my own personal all-killer-no-filler albums. A couple of things stand out as being over-represented: debut albums and pre-mid 80’s albums, and thre are probably good reasons for that.

With a debut album a band has often spent years building up a repertoire, writing songs, performing them, seeing what works and maybe changing them. When it comes to putting together an LP their best 45 minutes of material will be songs that they know work and they know very well. Songs will have gone through evolutions and the best version of them will end up on that debut. They might only spend a few days in the studio, but that album could have been years in the making. When it does well, there is pressure to get a follow-up out within a year and you have a year to write new material while pre-occupied with touring and promoting the first LP. If they can only come up with half an hour of decent tunes they can end up with a couple of rushed fillers to bring the running time up to 40 or 45 minutes and get the second album out there before the buzz goes away.

As for the over-representation of pre-mid-80’s albums in my own list of all-killer LPs, I think that has a lot to do with CDs. When an album was on vinyl it was a bit of a faff to get up, go over to the turntable, and skip a track. You would either end up listening to objectively weaker tracks often enough that they would grow on you or if you had gone to the effort to get up and skip a track you might end up just putting another record on. I used to half-jokingly say that life was too short to listen to both sides of an abum in one session and if you were getting up to turn it over you might as well put on something different. Just maybe this sort of thing gave artists a real incentive to make sure tracks were not so dull as to make us get up in the first place.

Once the CD came along it was so easy to skip tracks with a remote control you would just do that. In fact some CD players could be programmed to remember discs and skip certain tracks every time as a matter of course. Now that we listen to playlists as much as albums it has all changed again.

Surprisingly, greatest hits albums tend not to fall into the all-killer-no-filler category. If an album is approximately 45 minutes and a single is approximately 3 minutes, you need 15 songs for a greatest hits and so many acts rush out an LP after 2 or 3 studio albums when they really don’t have enough under their belt. Take ABBA for example. Their Greatest Hits LP from 1972 was a massive seller but included the track He Is Your Brother, which not a hit and more filler than killer.

I shall write about a few of my favourite albums as the fancy takes me, expect to see a preponderance of 70’s and 80’s debut albums!

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